Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
I love the idea of an abstract gourmand, a fragrance that subtly suggests an illusion of something delicious and tantalizing without making its gustatory references overly obvious. Parfums MDCI La Belle Helene starts from this premise: a hint of mouthwatering dessert woven into an elegant oriental composition. La Belle Helene is a perfume inspired by a classical dessert, Poires Belle-Hélène, which was in turn inspired by Offenbach’s operetta La belle Hélène. Just as the great chef Auguste Escoffier interpreted Offenbach’s lighthearted parody in his own manner, perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour pays his personal homage to Escoffier’s sublime combination of poached pears paired with vanilla ice-cream, chocolate sauce and candied violets. La Belle Helene is a story of rosewater poached pear set into an elegant oriental backdrop of amber, incense and vetiver.
The fragrance opens up on the bright, vibrant notes of apricot and violet, through which the myrrh and amber of the basenotes can already be seen. While the gourmand and fruity notes are quite pronounced—rose accented pear, candied apricots and violets and dark vanilla, the fragrance is beautifully balanced. The iris and incense provide a pleasantly dry counterpoint to the opulent richness of La Belle Helene. As the composition develops and the juicy brightness of pear and rose recedes, the drydown of crisp, radiant amber notes, vetiver and cedarwood comes as a pleasant surprise. The classical oriental sweetness remains obvious in La Belle Helene; however, the gourmand references are now abstract and teasing. The end result is seductive and elegant, a boudoir story, rather than that of a pastry shop.
Those familiar with L’Artisan Traversée du Bosphore have already received a preview of La Belle Helene. Wearing these fragrances side by side, I see that they definitely share the same bloodline, even if there are some notable differences. Both are built on a velvety oriental accord, where the soft, sweet violet and dark amber notes form a sensual backdrop against which the floral and fruity accents of the compositions unfold. While Traversée du Bosphore has a stronger candied violet and sweet, warm amber impression, La Belle Helene explores the dark apricot and rose notes. While both are beautiful fragrances, I do not need both in my collection as they have similar characters. I would reach for either when I am in the mood for a warm, sensual perfume that nevertheless has an intimate, comforting aura. In the end, Traversée du Bosphore remains my favorite for a somewhat banal reason—a more affordable price point.
Parfums MDCI La Belle Helene includes notes of pear, aldehydes, tangerine, lime blossom, rose essence, osmanthus, ylang-ylang, iris, hawthorn, Mirabelle plum, myrrh, vetiver, patchouli, cedar Virginia, amber, oak moss, white musk, sandalwood and licorice wood. It is now available at Luckyscent ($250, 60ml.)
Photograph by Gjon Mili, 1943. Some rights reserved.
Sample: my own acquisition